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News Posted on March 13, 2014

King Hall Students Serve Sacramento County Foster Youth

Erin Levenick and Karen KontzUC Davis School of Law students have established the King Hall Education Advocacy Project, a program that provides advocates for foster youth in Sacramento County who otherwise would not have an adult to oversee their educational needs. The program, founded by Erin Levenick '14 and Karen Kontz '14, enabled 20 King Hall students to serve 15 foster children during 2013-14, and plans are in place to expand next year under the direction of Juliana Fehrenbacher '15.

Foster youth face many obstacles in their efforts to get an education, from the emotional trauma of being separated from their families to the many problems that arise from frequent changes in school placement. Many have no adult to provide continuity and supervision as they are moved from one foster care facility to another and transferred between schools, a situation that often leads to absenteeism, improper assessment, and other problems. As a result, foster children often perform below their grade level, with 83 percent being held back a year before they reach third grade, and only 49 percent graduating from high school or earning a GED by the age of 19.

While working at the Children's Law Center in Sacramento during the summer of 2012, Levenick became aware of the need for more Educational Rights Holders: adult volunteers appointed by the juvenile court system to ensure adequate representation for children in situations where the parents' rights have been limited. Through the Education Pioneers Fellowship cohort, she learned of a program at UC Berkeley School of Law in which students received training from the National Center for Youth Law and the Disability Rights Education Defense Fund and served as advocates for foster youth in the East Bay.

Levenick discussed the idea of founding a similar program in Sacramento County with Kontz, who had experience working on a National Center for Youth Law project providing educational champions for foster youth in Santa Cruz County. Together, they set about recruiting King Hall students to attend the training and volunteer to serve as Educational Rights Holders for foster children in Sacramento County.

As participants in the King Hall Education Advocacy Project, students serve as Educational Rights Holders for foster children, tracking attendance, helping with school transfers, and making sure educational needs are adequately assessed.

"Special needs often aren't correctly assessed when a kid is moving around between different foster homes and different schools," Levenick said. "Requesting an assessment is a long process, and it isn't going to happen unless there is an adult involved who is willing to get things started, stay with it, and track the progress. As Educational Rights Holders, King Hall students have been able to serve as a constant and keep the process moving."

The program offers King Hall students the opportunity to gain valuable experience in juvenile law as they serve an unmet need in the community, Kontz said. "We're really excited about the potential this program has, and we want to see it be sustained and grow and be able to serve more kids in our community."

"We're proud of this as a student organization that has identified a need in the community and been able to come up with a tangible way to address it," said Levenick. "This exemplifies my experience at King Hall, which has been that students are always willing to get involved and make a difference."